Believe it or not, you can buy and prepare healthy meals from the dollar store. Don’t believe us? Let’s talk about the healthy food options we can find that won’t break the bank.
We all know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but not all dollar stores offer those. So, what else is healthy? Let’s take a virtual walk through the aisles and discuss the healthy and not so healthy options that dollar stores offer.
The dry goods aisle has a wide variety of options. You can get the most bang for your buck here. This section is wonderful because it offers several whole food options that are minimally processed. In other words, not significantly changed from their original form with added ingredients.
Healthier options include dry beans and lentils, oils like olive and canola, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium broth, and no-sugar-added V8 juice and spices. In this aisle you can also find grains like bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal and even ramen noodles. You can make those noodles healthier by getting rid of the seasoning packet.
Canned goods are another option that sometimes gets a bad reputation. These goods are usually preserved with salt and/or sugar, and a lot of it. However, not all canned goods are created equal.
When purchasing canned items, read the nutrition facts label. Purchase items that contain less than 140 mg of sodium or less than 6 grams of added sugars whenever possible.
Do not worry if the canned goods at your local store are high in these. You can reduce the sodium or sugar by simply rinsing it off with water. Some great canned options include vegetables, fruit, tuna and chicken.
Other healthier snack options in this section include peanut butter, unsalted nuts or pretzels, unbuttered popcorn and applesauce with no sugar added. Avoid ultra-processed snacks like chips, candy, cookies and most cereals. These foods contain a lot of sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium. Also, these types of foods can worsen issues like heart disease and diabetes.
Selection of frozen berries.
The frozen section has some great options. Any form of whole, frozen foods are always better choices. One added benefit of frozen foods is they can last much longer than the fresh version.
Choose frozen vegetables, fruit, fish, chicken and lean beef. In this section you may want to skip the frozen meals (“TV dinners”). These are usually highly processed and may contain high amounts of sodium and saturated fats.
As mentioned previously, every store is different, so make sure to read the label.
Finally, we arrive at the refrigerated section. Remember, the goal is to buy minimally processed, whole foods whenever possible. In this section, choose healthier options like low-fat or fat-free milk and low-fat mozzarella sticks. Sometimes value stores will even have eggs, low-fat, no-sugar-added yogurt, or fresh vegetables like spinach.
Unfortunately, there may be more options to avoid here than to add to your cart. Lunch meat, some shredded cheeses, flavored yogurt and sweetened juice drinks just to name a few. These foods tend to be heavily processed and contain high amounts of sodium, fat and sugar. Just like the other aisles we have walked through, it’s important to check the nutrition label.
Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots and crackers.
I bought my groceries. Now what can I make?
Need some help with meal and snack ideas? We are here to help.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Oatmeal topped with no-sugar-added dried fruit
- Chicken and vegetable stir-fry with ramen noodles or rice
- Beans and rice with roasted vegetables
- Spaghetti and meatballs and side salad with Italian dressing
- Homemade chicken noodle soup
- Chili with beans, beef, corn and spinach
- Tuna, chicken or egg salad sandwich
- Unflavored yogurt with frozen fruit of your choice
- Peanut butter and pretzels or apple
- Low-fat mozzarella cheese stick with unsalted crackers or apple
- Boiled eggs
- Low-sodium popcorn
- Unsalted nuts
Jennifer Afana and Trever Williams are VA dietetic interns.